RSF and Propuesta Cívica file complaints with the UN over disappearances of journalists in Mexico
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its Mexican partner organisation Propuesta Cívica will lodge complaints against Mexico with the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva on 2 November, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The complaints will be the first of their kind to be filed against the Mexican state before the UN body.
The complaints challenge the responsibility of the Mexican state in the case of journalists Mauricio Estrada Zamora and Ramón Ángeles Zalpa, who disappeared from the state of Michoacán in 2008 and 2010 respectively. The complaints, which the Human Rights Committee refers to as “individual communications”, will be filed on behalf of the families of the two journalists. The complainants argue that due to serious failures in the investigations, Mexico has violated its obligations under international law.
In particular, the complaints demonstrate that the rights of the two journalists to life, to liberty and security, their right to freedom of expression, the protection against torture and arbitrary detention, and their right to an effective remedy as defined by articles 2.3, 6.1, 7, 9, 16 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, have been violated.
RSF and Propuesta Cívica spent a year preparing the complaints
Since it is highly unlikely that after more than a decade of impunity the Mexican authorities will make any advances in their investigations, RSF and Propuesta Cívica decided to appeal to a major international protection institution. Working in close cooperation with the families of the missing journalists, RSF and Propuesta Cívica have spent more than a year preparing the two complaints against the Mexican state for submission to the UN Human Rights Committee. The complainants argue that the serious flaws in the investigations constitute a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by the Mexican state. They therefore call on the Human Rights Committee to order Mexico to conduct efficient and thorough investigations into these cases, to compensate the families for their years of suffering, and to ensure that such cases are not repeated.
“We expect that bringing the matter before international institution will not only give the two families of the disappeared journalists the chance to draw attention to their fate and the tragedy of impunity, but also give them a new opportunity to obtain justice that is denied to them in their own country”, commented Antoine Bernard, RSF Director of Advocacy and Assistance.
In a symbolic gesture, the complaints will be submitted on 2 November 2022, International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in 2013. RSF and Propuesta Cívica call on the UN Human Rights Committee to admit both complaints and to listen to the families’ demands and accounts of years of seeking justice and access to justice in vain.
Authorities deny disappeared journalists and families their rights
In both cases, the authorities have so far failed to take any effective action to solve these suspected crimes and to find those responsible and bring them to justice. They thus deprive the missing journalists of the possibility to be found and deny their families their right to learn the truth about the fate of these two men, who were also fathers.
RSF and Propuesta Cívica have identified numerous flaws in both the investigations conducted by the Michoacán Prosecutor's Office, the first authority to deal with the cases, and by the federal authorities, as a result of which the cases remain unsolved to this day. Neither the state nor federal authorities conducted a proper investigation into the suspected crimes, and no serious efforts have been made to find the journalists or their remains, or to identify the perpetrators or those who commissioned the crimes.
“For more than a decade, the Mexican state has completely forsaken these two families. Unfortunately, this is the norm in Mexico – not a single case of the enforced disappearance of a journalist has ever been solved. This inexplicable degree of impunity makes it inevitable that those affected seek justice through alternative channels,” said Christian Mihr, Executive Director of RSF Germany.
Two journalists disappear without a trace
Mauricio Estrada Zamora, a 38-year-old crime reporter for the daily newspaper La Opinión de Apatzingán, went missing in Apatzingán, Michoacán state, on 13 February 2008. He was last seen leaving the newspaper’s editorial offices in the evening to go home to his wife and young son. His car was found empty a few hours later. His wife reported him missing that same day. A kidnapping investigation was launched. A few days after his disappearance, Estrada's brother received a phone call in which he was told that Estrada had not been abducted but arrested, but this lead was not pursued. Another lead according to which Estrada was involved in a dispute with an agent of the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) nicknamed “El Diablo” (the Devil) also failed to produce results. In 2012, the Mexican Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) opened an investigation. Estrada's wife made numerous appeals to the authorities to investigate further, but without success.
Ramón Ángeles Zalpa (46) was a reporter for the daily newspaper Cambio de Michoacán. Among other topics he covered the problems of indigenous communities and deficiencies in the education sector. He was also a lecturer at the National University of Education Sciences. On the afternoon of 6 April 2010, he left his home in Paracho, Michoacán, to drive to a building site on the university campus, but never arrived. After the family reported him missing on 7 April, the local authorities launched an official investigation. Two weeks later, FEADLE began investigating. However, as outlined in the complaint, only a few half-hearted inquiries were carried out in 2010, 2012 and 2013, and they led nowhere. Complaints lodged by family members at the state level went unheeded and the family received only inadequate, short-term support.
100 percent impunity after disappearances of media workers
Twenty-seven journalists are currently registered as missing persons in Mexico, including four in Michoacán. In none of these cases have those responsible been brought to justice – which means there is 100 percent impunity. Since 1964, more than 100,000 people have been officially listed as “disappeared” in Mexico. The problem affects the entire country but is particularly dramatic in regions with high levels of cartel and gang violence. Seventy-eight percent of these cases occurred in just ten of Mexico’s thirty-one states, Michoacán being one of those states.
As in the two Michoacán cases, the families of victims are forced to take the initiative, turning to one institution after another and often even conducting their own investigations in a desperate attempt to find their loved ones alive.
Reporters Without Borders and Propuesta Cívica prepared the complaints to be lodged with the UN Human Rights Committee as part of their joint programme Defending Voices. The programme is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and campaigns for the reform of laws that restrict press freedom and for justice for journalists who have become victims of a crime and their families. In April, the two organisations presented a joint initiative for the reform of laws that negatively impact press freedom to the Mexican Senate in the context of the Defending Voices programme.